The cost of false fire alarms can be high. The 46,232 false alarms last year accounted for an estimated $107 million in wasted time and resources because 97% of calls made to firefighters by NSW automatic alarm systems are false. The mistakes are typically triggered by non-emergencies such as steam from showers or burnt toast.
WHAT IS A FALSE FIRE ALARM?
A false fire alarm is when the Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) is alerted by an automatic fire detection system reporting a fire to premises. Where on arrival of the fire brigade at the location of the alarm there is no fire and the attendance of the fire brigade is not necessary.
When an alarm goes off, firefighter rush but 97% of the time when firefighters get to the scene there are no flames or smoke. The alarm goes off because someone is cooking and the smoke sets it off or the system may not be working right or someone could have pulled the fire alarm without an emergency.
The protocol in NSW is to respond to every automatically generated alarm. Each response incurs a cost to the fire authority and therefore to the taxpayers. The full costs of an emergency call are estimated to be about $3,083 for each false alarm. We can save a lot and lives if the fire brigade responds to genuine cases of fire. In a false fire alarm case, we incur costs and someone’s life may be saved in competing incidents.
Main causes of false alarms:
- System malfunction
- Poorly maintained systems
- Insufficient maintenance frequency
- Burnt toast
- Cooking fumes
- Cigarettes and candles
- Aerosol sprays
- Poor ventilation
- Dirty smoke detectors
- Damage to ‘break glass alarms’ or ‘manual call points’
- Insect infestation
- Tradespeople and cleaners
Firefighters respond to fire alarm with two fire trucks, a ladder truck and a battalion chief. It is not cheap to run these vehicles from fuel and maintenance standpoint. It cost the fire department and the taxpayers $3,083 for each call. These units are out of service during the call when another true emergency may come in.
A study shows that there is a spike in unintentional alarms during 8:00 – 10:00 am as a result of steam from bathrooms or kettles, burn toast, and hairsprays or aerosol in the air. Unintentional alarm in the evening peak at 7:00 to 8:00 pm is mostly caused by the smoke generated by non-fire sources like heaters, cooking, or smoking cigarettes in the room. False fire alarms are correlated with human activities.
The automatic fire alarm (AFA) system is vital in fire detection for homes and commercial buildings to alert the occupants and initiate quick responses by FRNSW in case of fire. AFA systems are required by the National Construction Code and are administered by Local Government Authorities. Building owners and managers can properly maintain their smoke alarm system or AFA system with the help of a professional electrician that will ensure the correct operation of AFA and reduce the likelihood of unwanted alarms.
FINES FOR FALSE ALARM IN NSW
The Fire and Rescue NSW ACT 1989, Section 42 allows FRNSW to charge $1,600 for false alarm call-outs. This fine is intended to motivate building owners and managers to be pro-active in managing their AFA system and make sure they are properly maintained by a professional electrician. Properly maintained systems assist in reducing the number of false alarms responded by FRNSW and allow them to respond quickly to genuine emergencies.
Not all false alarms are chargeable. In case of storms, or other natural disasters, false alarms will not be charged if the alarm was beyond the control of the owner. Other circumstances that will result in no charge:
- One false alarm within a 60-day period will not be charged. Subsequent false alarms that occur within 60 days of the first alarm will be charged.
- A 24-hour leniency period applies in which repeat false alarms will not be charged. Only the first alarm will be charged within 24 hours. Multiple false alarms within a 24-hour period are considered a one-off event giving the business owner or manager time to rectify their alarm system.
A building owner or manager can seek a waiver for the false alarm charge through their Automatic Fire Alarm Service Provider. The AFASP will provide advice on the process and documentation required to request a waiver. The application for waiver must be made not more than 180 calendar days from the FRNSW invoice date.
To avoid false fire alarms, FRNSW recommends the following measures:
- Ensure that fans and windows are open before cooking
- Be aware where AFA is located in your home and ensure all measures are taken to avoid false alarm
- Don’t walk away from a toaster that’s in use
- Don’t smoke near smoke detectors
- Don’t use aerosol sprays near smoke detectors
- Manage activities that produce dust, heat, or smoke to ensure a detector is not activated
- Ventilate steam and fumes away from the smoke detector
- Have your AFA maintained by a professional electrician